Wednesday, May 22, 2019

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft - Part 3: 30-11

This is the 3rd part of my final top 50 OHL players eligible for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Here you will find players ranked 30 through 11.

This might be the weakest group, 30-11, that I have had to rank since I started covering the OHL over a decade ago. First time I can remember ranking guys in this part three that I felt were more likely to go undrafted, than drafted. Also the first time I can remember thinking so few of the guys on this list could end up as top 3 round selections. Hind sight is 20/20, so it will be interesting to look back on this list in a few years. But right now, this draft just does not look great for the OHL, something scouts have been preaching all season long.

11. Hunter Jones - Goaltender - Peterborough Petes
It was a tale of two seasons for Jones. In the first half, he looked like a front runner for OHL goaltender of the year and looked to have emerged as one of the OHL's elite netminders in his first year as a starter. But the second half was the exact opposite. We saw him revert back to the goalie that fought the puck and battled with consistency issues in his rookie OHL season a year ago. A couple things worth noting though. The first is that fatigue likely played a major factor. Only two other goaltenders in the OHL saw more action this year. That's just insane considering that he had only played 15 games the previous year, his first in the OHL. The second is how poor Peterborough played in front of him in the second half, especially defensively. This is a kid who has the complete package in net and is everything NHL scouts look for now; size, athleticism, and poise. Was so impressed by the gains he had shown early on, especially in terms of movement and puck tracking. But later in the year he looked slower, had trouble controlling rebounds and fighting through traffic. I do truly believe that the goalie that we saw in the first half is the more likely true version of Jones and his pro potential. But, goaltenders can be tricky to rank and his later season troubles are enough to push him out of the top 10 in the OHL for me. 

12. Nikita Okhotyuk - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Okhotyuk is the kind of guy who grows slowly on you. Originally, I was disappointed in his progression this year, after liking him a lot as an OHL rookie last year. In the first half, I felt that his offensive game hadn't progressed enough and that I did not see enough upside. But the more that I have watched him this year, the more that I have learned to appreciate all of the great things that he does and how valuable he is to the 67's. And even though the production doesn't support it, I feel like he really gained more confidence in his offensive abilities in the second half and into the playoffs. Okhotyuk definitely projects as more of a stay at home defender at the next level though. He has good size at 6'1, 200lbs, but his mobility is excellent in all four directions. He is also a true throwback in the sense that he is consistently looking to wreck havoc physically. One of the best open ice hitters in the OHL, Okhotyuk plays with such a high intensity level in the defensive end. But the thing that always impresses me about Okhotyuk is how disciplined he is for the type of game he plays. He does not take many bad penalties and exhibits great control and poise in the defensive end. From an offensive stand point, Okhotyuk is willing to use his smooth stride to lead the rush and he will jump up in the play from time to time. He also flashes a booming point shot that he should use more. Early in the year, I thought he struggled with his decision making with the puck in his own end, but that greatly improved as the year went on and turnovers became much less of an issue. I don't see a ton of upside with Okhotyuk, but I do think that he could be a quality #4 at the NHL level who can be a prime time penalty killer and defensive work horse.

13. Michael Vukojevic - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
I thought Vukojevic had a very good U18's for team Canada, where he took on a shut down role for the 4th place Canadians. This raised him a bit in my year end rankings because I think it showed how far his mobility has come on the big ice. He'll never be a blazing skater moving forward and it will limit his offensive potential at the NHL level. But his lateral and backwards mobility has really improved, as has his understanding of gap control and how to utilize his reach and size. At 6'3, 200lbs, Vukojevic will eventually develop into a physical beast in his own end. He can be one mean customer and his intensity level near the crease and along the wall, makes him such a difficult player to win one on one battles against. I also think that Vukojevic's first pass and decision making with the puck have greatly improved over the course of this season. Turnovers were an issue at times early on, but much less so later in the year. He really has adapted well. Like Okhotyuk ranked before him, Vukojevic likely does not possess the highest potential of defenders available. But you would be hard pressed to find a more reliable defender in his own end, who also possesses leadership capabilities who could be a long time NHL defender and penalty killer. Few players in this top 50 played as much for their OHL team as Vukojevic did this year, if any.

14. Ethan Keppen - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Here are Keppen's ranks among OHL draft eligible players for 5 on 5 production. Goals: 3rd (24), Primary assists: 2nd (18), Primary points: 4th (42), Shots: 2nd (171). That's pretty impressive and actually quite shocking. Keppen is a big kid at 6'2, 210lbs who would definitely be considered a power winger. He excels when he is aggressive in attacking the offensive zone, forcing his way to the net, and really bringing energy on the forecheck. He is a very dangerous player below the hash marks because of his size, but also because he processes the game well. Keppen's 2nd ranking in primary assists (as noted above) is no fluke. He is terrific at winning battles along the wall, only to spin off his check to find a driving teammate. And he is aggressive in driving the net, which also creates second chance opportunities that his linemates can take advantage of. Keppen also possesses a terrific shot, one of the heavier ones in the age group. All things considered, Keppen is one of the most well rounded wingers available from the OHL this year. So why is he at 14? I do have some concerns about his high end upside at the next level. I am not confident that his puck skill is as good as it will need to be to be a top line player. And while his skating is not an issue at the OHL level, I do think that there is room for improvement as he looks to establish himself as more of a factor in transition. But even if you end up with a Zach Hyman kind of player, isn't that worth a second or third round selection?

15. Billy Constantinou - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Unfortunately for him, a trade to Kingston (for Jason Robertson) really killed his draft stock after a hot start with Niagara on a solid team. Playing on one of the weakest OHL teams in recent memory, especially from an offensive point of view, really highlighted Constantinou's required areas of growth, without taking advantage of his strengths. The Frontenacs were so consistently hemmed in their own end that his reads and lack of strength in the defensive end were magnified. And it seemed like every time he managed to escape his own end with his impressive skating ability, nothing came of the play and he would get trapped up ice with the opposition heading back the other way. All that said, Constantinou is ranked 15th on this list still for a reason and will be ranked even higher, likely, by some of my contemporaries. He is one of the best movers in the age group among defenders. His agility and ability to cut on a dime are extremely impressive and it makes him a very elusive puck rusher when he finds those seams up ice. His overall puck skill is impressive too. But I do think that his decision making with the puck needs refining. When he works the point on the powerplay, he needs to be a little more assertive in trying to create shooting or passing lanes, utilizing his strong skating ability to do so. And as mentioned, there are some flaws defensively that were certainly magnified by Kingston's inadequacies as a team. So you roll the dice here on a kid with a lot of offensive potential. At some point I am sure that he will be a top notch point producer from the back end in this league. It's just a matter of how much his defensive game grows in that time span.

16. Matvey Guskov - Forward - London Knights
A seriously raw, "toolsy" type of forward who was just so inconsistent this year, his first in the OHL. It seemed like every time he had a couple of great shifts, you just waited with baited breath for his breakout. But it never really happened and his ice time was cut towards the end of the OHL season (goalless in the final 14 games of the regular season, and only 2 goals in the final 25 if you count the playoffs). But in a down year for the OHL, a boom or bust type of player like Guskov is going to still be ranked highly. So what type of tools are we talking about? Well Guskov is a 6'1 winger with very impressive mobility. His acceleration is impressive and he has that ability to carve up the neutral zone to gain entry to the offensive zone when he is playing well. I saw my share of end to end rushes from him this year. He also flashes terrific puck skill that allows him to protect the puck well through traffic. I also think that Guskov projects as a quality two-way player eventually, as he gains strength and learns to play with a little more intensity without the puck. He has that long reach that could be a major asset in the neutral zone or his own end, be it on the penalty kill or otherwise. But consistency was a major issue. I'm just not sure I have a good read as to how good his hockey sense is in the offensive zone and whether that will limit his potential as a top 6 player at the next level. He also needs to play with more urgency through the middle of the ice as he can be kept to the perimeter too often. But there's just something to his game that is alluring, especially when you consider that he was a first year Import. Sometimes it takes longer for these guys to get it. Patience will be key with Guskov, but the potential reward is there.

17. Joe Carroll - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Another raw forward project who has a lot of potential if he can put it all together. Carroll comes in at 6'3, 195lbs, and skates quite well for a big man. He saw time down the middle and on the wing this year. At times, he can be physically dominant out there. He controls the wall very well and can be a very difficult player to separate from the puck. Is the type of player who is able to prolong possession all by himself by keeping his feet moving and by using his size and strength to protect the puck. He can also be a real load to handle down low. When he's fully engaged physically and looking to park himself near the crease, he looks like a potential power forward who could be a great goal scorer in this league. But consistency is a big time issue. When he plays center position, I see him as too passive at times, especially when looking to attack off the rush. He needs to be more decisive with the puck on his stick and make quicker decisions. I am just not certain he has the vision or creativity to be a center. That said, I do wonder if he has the shot or goal scoring instincts to be a strong goal scoring power winger, even if he looked better on the wing IMO. It's just a matter of how his game develops and if he can find a way to use his size a little more consistently. This has been a critique of his game going back to his minor midget OHL draft year, and it has yet to change. Like Guskov ranked before him, Carroll will require patience from the team that drafts him, but he could be a real strong player in the long run and is most definitely a better player than his 9 goal, 31 point season would indicate.

18. Jacob LeGuerrier - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Tired of me mentioning the term "tools" yet? Well don't read this profile then. These are the types of guys who are going to be ranked highly in a down year because everyone is going to try to find that "diamond in the rough." LeGuerrier is a very interesting player, who also happens to be in a very interesting situation in the Soo. This year, SSM deployed the third year defender (late 2000 birth date) in a top four role, but he was primarily used in defensive situations and asked to be a stay at home presence. But next year, there will be an opportunity for more offensive responsibility. Can LeGuerrier follow in the footsteps of the likes of Mac Hollowell and Conor Timmins as Greyhounds defenders who explode with more ice time and powerplay responsibilities? I actually think he can. At 6'3, LeGuerrier is actually a terrific skater who can cover a lot of ground. Flashed an ability at times this year to lead the rush or jump up into the play as that 3rd/4th man in. I think there is definitely potential for this area of his game to really improve. Even if it doesn't, you've got a 6'3 defender who fits the mold perfectly of the modern day shut down defender who can skate with the best of them, but also possesses the reach, physicality, and IQ to match up against the opposition's best (think Brandon Carlo). I had him a little higher on my list at times this year, but I thought that he struggled with turnovers and decision making with the puck at times in the second half and that made me lower him behind guys with similar projection like Okhotyuk and Vukojevic, whose play with the puck improved over the year.

19. Cole Mackay - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Back to back to back Greyhounds? Really? Yes. Mackay is such a likeable player. He is the type of forward who would go through a wall to make a play for his team. He is such an effective player without the puck because of his high end hockey sense. Always seems to get behind defenders, even though he doesn't possess above average skating ability. Knows his role on a scoring line is to work the wall, retrieve loose pucks, and find his way to the net. But Mackay also has great hands and a very quick release, which means that he is quite effective at working through traffic and checks, despite being only average sized at 5'11. Mackay is also a great two-way player who will block shots, kill penalties, and is consistently one of the first forwards on the backcheck. He is just a very well rounded player and one of the top two-way forwards available from the OHL this year. But there are bound to be questions about projection given his lack of elite size and lack of athleticism. His stride does lack power/explosiveness. In a lot of ways, Mackay reminds me a lot of former Erie Otter Connor Brown. Brown, obviously, has gone on to an NHL career without possession of elite physical tools and Mackay could certainly do the same. 

20. Keean Washkurak - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Really likeable player and a fan favourite in Mississauga because of his non stop motor. Measures in at only 5'10, but Washkurak is one of the toughest kids in the OHL and plays way bigger than his size. He does not back down from any challenge. Washkurak is a terrific forechecker, who can use his speed to cause havoc in puck retrieval scenarios. As such, he's a fantastic penalty killer, which was on full display at the U18's, where he suited up for Canada in a depth role. I love his effort level in all three zones. He's the type of kid who really is hungry for the puck in the sense that if his line turns it over, he will battle to get it back as soon as possible. But it's important to not undervalue his offensive abilities either. Washkurak is a great playmaker who can use his speed to push the pace in transition, or he can work down low with great vision from behind the net. He also has good hands that allow him to finish off the plays in tight after he crashes the net. Washkurak is just a very well rounded, high energy player. That said, I don't think the upside is extremely high, but he could be a very valuable 3rd/4th line player who can provide your lineup with a lot of versatility. 

21. Cole Schwindt - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Big, lanky center (6'3, 175lbs) who really came on strong in the second half after the Steelheads dealt Tippett and McLeod. He had 21 points in 20 games to close out the regular season (from February on). I look at Schwindt as a similar type of player to Guelph's Mackenzie Entwistle. Any time that I've watched him, I've come away super impressed with his defensive ability, first and foremost. He has such a big reach and he uses it to get his stick in passing lanes. Forces a lot of turnovers in the neutral zone and in his own end. As such, he's become a very good penalty killer too. Schwindt is also a pretty good skater for a big guy. Maybe not as good as Entwistle, but his mobility is good even if he has a bit of a wide stride that looks a little awkward or imbalanced. Like his teammate Washkurak, Schwindt is a playmaker first. Loves working down low and spinning off the wall to open up lanes. As he gets stronger, he is going to be a very difficult player to separate from the puck. I would, however, like to see him play with a little more pace and use his size more to drive the net. But we saw flashes of that late in the second half. Like Washkurak, I'm not sure we're looking at a player with a high upside, but he could definitely develop into a quality NHL player down the line.

22. Keegan Stevenson - Forward - Guelph Storm
Very valuable depth player for the powerhouse Guelph Storm this year. Born on NYE, Stevenson is a day from being a 2001, but even as a late 2000, he's coming off only his second year in the OHL. Was so versatile for Guelph, playing in virtually all situations for them. And here's a stat for you. Primary points 5 on 5, Stevenson had a higher point per game average than Nick Robertson and Blake Murray, and equal to Jamieson Rees and Ryan Suzuki. With his size and strength down low, Stevenson is someone that an offense can run through. His puck skill is underrated and he makes very good decisions with the puck in the offensive zone. He's quite often the first man into the zone on puck retrievals and he is able to recover loose pucks to establish offensive zone time for the Storm. Stevenson is also an improving skater, which is helping him to be quicker to gaps in coverage (especially near the net), and helping him to be more of a factor in transition. In addition to his offensive skill set, Stevenson is a good penalty killer and three zone player who can force turnovers with his size (6'1). As he fills out his frame, I would expect the physicality in his game become even more consistent and he could be a real power forward. Like some of the other guys ranked in this range, the high end offensive potential at the NHL level likely isn't extremely high. But his versatility and raw physical skill set make him a very alluring player to NHL scouts hoping he can be a great complimentary 3rd line winger moving forward.

23. Mitchell Brewer - Defense - Oshawa Generals
I continue to be befuddled by NHL Central Scouting's lack of respect for Brewer, leaving him unranked in their final rankings for 2019. I do understand that he has some limitations, and I think his offensive game took a step backward in the second half. But he also was a top defensive performer for one of the best teams in the OHL, and was excellent in this year's playoffs. At 6'1, 205lbs, Brewer is a physically imposing stay at home defender. Like Okhotyuk, Vukojevic, and LeGuerrier ranked before him, he has to be considered one of the best young defensive defenders in the OHL. He blocks shots. He wins one on one battles in traffic. He uses his good mobility to have good gap control and is physical when he needs to be. His +11 rating in the playoffs this year was no fluke; he is terrific in his own end. As an offensive player, I think that there is room for improvement. Early in the season, I saw a lot of potential in his puck carrying ability, as he was taking chances with the puck and jumping up in the play. But, either due to a lack of confidence or coaching staff request, this really disappeared from his game in the second half. I also noticed an increase in turnovers in his own end and a bit of a panic level with the puck. But, I do still feel that his puck skill and offensive game can improve. And you pair that with his defensive acumen, you've got someone who could have an impact similar to Kevan Miller in Boston. 

24. Nicholas Porco - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
High potential offensive forward who was forced into a depth role with Saginaw this year due to their depth up front. The former 4th overall OHL pick is a slick skating, North/South type of player who can really push the pace with creative puck skill and an explosive stride. But the rest of his game is a big work in progress. He can be too easily pushed off of the puck in the offensive zone, and as such struggles to play through traffic consistently. If he can't beat you with his speed, he can be neutralized. If he can learn to play more East/West; be more aggressive without the puck and look to attack the middle with more consistency, he could be a real strong offensive player. Again, this kid has above average skating and skill, it's just about becoming stronger and more assertive. As such, he is one of those selections that we could look back on in a few years and say, "man, how did this guy go so late?" There's a lot of former Spirit Tye Felhaber in Porco, at least in terms of comparing them in their NHL draft years. Sometimes they put it all together like Felhaber. And sometimes they don't. Porco is the very definition of a high risk, high reward selection later in the draft.

25. Liam Ross - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Going back to his minor midget year, Ross has always been one of my favourite players in this age group. He's a competitive two-way defender with good size at 6'2, 200lbs who eats up a ton of minutes for the upstart Sudbury Wolves. In his own end, he is a big asset. He takes away space well, exhibiting good gap control despite some skating limitations. He's also excellent along the wall, where he is quick to engage and use his size to separate forwards from the puck. But it's his offensive game that is grossly underrated. 5 on 5, Ross was actually the leader in points and goals among draft eligible defenders (and not Thomas Harley). He has excellent vision up ice and is able to make very quick decisions with the puck in his own end. He is also great at jumping up in the play and finding holes as the 3rd/4th man in. Consistently catches forwards sleeping who are tasked with defending him at the point. I just see him as a real rock back there with the potential to develop into one of the OHL's best defenders by his graduation. But the main draw back is his skating ability. He lacks explosiveness in his forward stride, and his lateral and backwards mobility is not as fluid as his contemporaries. If he had the skating stride of a guy like Harley, or Okhotyuk, he'd be in my top 15. But as many players before him have proved, skating can be improved, especially when you consider that it's the only thing holding him back IMO.

26. Petr Cajka - Forward - Erie Otters
Late 2000 born Czech center who is coming off his first season in the OHL. Cajka is an excellent skater, in particular he has great power and balance in his stride. Is able to really explode coming off of the wall and his agility is really strong, which makes him a tough player to contain in the cycle. The production isn't overwhelming, especially for a late 2000 born player, but the Otters were a rebuilding club and Cajka is the type of kid who really passes the eye test. In addition to his skating, I really like his smarts and compete level in all three zones. Is a solid penalty killer and rarely seems to miss an assignment on the backcheck. I do think that there is more that he is capable of, especially offensively. As he gains strength, he will be more effective driving the middle of the ice where he can utilize his skating ability and good hands to create scoring chances at a more consistent rate. However, I'm not convinced that he is a center long term. I see him more effective working the half wall in the offensive zone, and using his speed in puck pursuit. His faceoff percentage was one of the worst in the OHL this year too (under 40% for a guy who took 700 draws). Hoping he sticks with Erie next year too as I could see a Rickard Hugg style explosion from him next year on a better Erie team.

27. Jet Greaves - Goaltender - Barrie Colts
Average sized, but very athletic netminder who really emerged as one of the top young goalies in the OHL this year, forcing NHL draft pick Maksim Zhukov out of the league. At 6'0, he doesn't have that size that NHL teams seem to want in their goaltenders these days. But you can't argue with his performance this year. I really like how Greaves tracks the play and squares himself to shooters. Very quick post to post and aggressive in challenging shooters and working through traffic to make himself bigger in the net. Had some difficulty holding his post at times and will need to work on his ability to limit rebounds and second chances. But for a first year OHL goaltender, I thought he looked terrific. Moving forward for Barrie, he'll likely continue to platoon with Kai Edmonds until one of them really establishes themselves as the starter. But I would anticipate that to be Greaves. With his athleticism, he has that game stealing ability that could one day see him as a serious candidate for OHL goaltender of the year.

28. Tag Bertuzzi - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Disastrous draft season for Bertuzzi, who came into the year as a potential top 50 pick because of his size and skill package. The son of former NHL'er Todd, Tag has a similar skill set to his Father. He plays the power game to a tee, attacking North/South, using his size to the drive the net and his skill to create scoring chances. But his production was not up to par in Guelph and he was not happy playing in a checking line role, so he was granted a trade to Hamilton. Upon arriving in Hamilton, Bertuzzi injured his shoulder, an injury that ended his season. That's now two years in a row that Bertuzzi has had to deal with serious injuries (after being limited to 41 games in his rookie years), and brings into question his durability given his tenacious style of play. Production issues. Character issues. Durability issues. That's a lot question marks. But in a down year for the OHL, I still feel that Bertuzzi needs to be ranked around this level and I do expect a team to throw a draft pick at him late. He still possesses a ton of potential and will get a ton of offensive responsibility for the Bulldogs moving forward. 

29. Mack Guzda - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
Really not a good year for Guzda, who I thought would be the top rated OHL netminder this year and someone who could be a potential top 60 selection. But he really struggled to find his game yet again, and behind a weaker Owen Sound team than a year ago, his confidence seemed to leave him by season's end. Normally a sub .880 save percentage isn't likely to get you drafted, but I still think Guzda ends up a late round pick. Let's not forget that Penguins star Matt Murray had an .876 save percentage in his NHL draft year for the Greyhounds. At 6'5, 220lbs, Guzda is a real big kid. But he's also very athletic and moves very well in the crease. On natural physical tools alone, Guzda is an impressive specimen. But there are some real flaws in his game right now that prevent him from being a consistent stopper. First is his ability to fight through traffic to locate pucks. He has a tendency to play too deep in his net and as such, isn't able to track the play as well as he should. He's such an athletic kid. He could stand to be more aggressive and still be confident that he can recover through a bad read. Second is his rebound control. Is currently too much of a stopper and not enough goaltender. High shots in particular tend to bounce off of him back into the slot and second/third chance opportunities are an issue. It really seems like he's fighting the puck at times. Third thing is his positioning, especially when moving. He has a tendency to over commit on shooters, taking himself out of the play and can be prone to giving up bad goals through holes that open up as he drops to his butterfly. All of that said, I have seen Guzda at his best and it's impressive. The potential is there for him to develop into an NHL netminder. It just may take a few years for him, as it did with Murray, a similar kind of physical specimen who had similar issues at a young age. 

30. Daniel D'Amico - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
After going his final 18 regular season games, in addition to 4 playoff games, without scoring a goal, D'Amico probably doesn't deserve to be ranked inside the Top 30. This is especially true when you consider that he's an undersized winger (at 5'9), who is also only a slightly above average skater. But the entire Spitfires team struggled mightily down the stretch, and I don't think that should completely take away from D'Amico's potential as one of the top offensive 2001's in the OHL. Through the middle part of the season, he was playing some terrific hockey and that's the D'Amico that I think will eventually emerge as a go to player in this league. His hands are so quick and his release is excellent. As he continues to upgrade his strength and skating, he should develop into a very good goal scorer. D'Amico is also a hard worker without the puck who can play East/West as well as he plays North/South. Will look to go hard to the net and has proven to be effective in traffic, even despite his lack of size. For a while there, the Spitfires lines were in a blender and it seemed like whatever line D'Amico was on, was their best. At this point, I'm not entirely sure he gets drafted. But I do like his potential to eventually develop into a player who gets onto the NHL radar because of his skill level and high energy level. 

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